I wrote this short story a while ago. I hope you like it. Names have been changed of course, but those of you reading this who know me, know who's who anyway.
He was stuck in a lift with Christopher Reeve and a Dalek once. The Dalek farted. He was born with dodgy hearing but he could smell just fine. He and Superman giggled up a couple of floors, till the Dalek got out. Superman turned to him and said, “That’s something you don’t smell every day”. That was in ‘76 I think, at the SciFi Convention in Brighton. He was a guest speaker – something to do with one of the many fanzines he wrote for.
He had a little silver comb. Stainless steel, it sat on the window ledge of the bathroom every day for 32 years. It never seemed to age; never got dirty, never got lost. He would sit on the edge of the bath for hours, patting his number 2 skinhead and combing his head. For a joke me and Clara used to ruffle his hair. And he would always say “Gerrof, it’s all out of place now”. Out of place? A skinhead?
He had a metal plate. God knows where he got it – maybe a leftover from his days in the army in Cyprus, when he used to run towards the sea over the roasting hot sand every day for two years, burning his little size 6 feet. Great tan he had. Always in the garden, wrist-watch on (cultivated the best watch mark in Sussex, showed everyone), funny little radio/headphone contraption over his head listening to “Round the Horne” or “Hancock’s Half Hour”, laughing out loud, hovering the grass up and down, up and down. Anyway back to the plate. He tried to eat every meal off that plate. Mum used to go berserk – “What’s wrong with a proper plate?” she would yell. “It is a proper plate, why is your china more proper-er than my tin?”. With his little child’s fork, he used to hunch protectively over his plate (as if someone was going to steal his food), and shovel it in. With his little blue eyes periodically darting this way and that, on the look-out for predators. Silly old git.
Me and Clara remember the Christmas-Mum-Got-Flu. He was left to his own devices with two hungry daughters and a turkey big enough to feed the five thousand. He defrosted it in a filthy old bucket of boiling water by the back door, spent over five hours trying to assemble some recognisable festive fare (his Tourettes leaving the neighbours up and down Craven Drive in no doubt that “he could fucking manage, how fucking hard can it be to cook a fucking bird”) and promptly fell asleep head first in his food, whilst me and Clara looked on in silence. It took us two hours to pluck up the courage to wake him from his slumber so we could open the presents Santa had left under the tree. How we laughed, years later.
If you ask his friends to name their favourite “Charlie-ism”, it could be one of the countless times he dropped his trousers at a house party and did his special Charlie dance (each leg tapping behind the other at totally irregular intervals), whilst twirling my mum, near hysterical, around the room by her fingertips. What a mover.
They may mention his sartorial elegance; his canary yellow flared jeans, or his warm Winter overcoat he tried to give a regular tramp on Charing Cross (for the record, the tramp gave it back to him. Said he needed it more).
No doubt some would mention his knack of getting rid of guests who had outstayed their welcome at his house…. He would go up-the-wooden-stairs-to-Bedfordshire, and come back down again wearing his winceyette pyjamas, winding his old fashioned alarm clock, dramatically yawning and stop all conversation dead.
His work colleagues may mention his morning clothes ritual. Arriving at work every morning at 7.30am, he would strip off his The Who t-shirt, trainers and jeans (always Levi’s) and wander aimlessly through the open plan space at Australia High Commission in the vague direction of his office in just his baggy Y-fronts, before donning his one work suit that was kept there for over 40 years.
Someone would mention the various Charlie-made objets d’art that littered the garden. The bird table stood not 1 foot off the ground, painted lime green (courtesy of Norm-Next-Door) and featured a swing, tightrope and various other toys that he said would keep the sparrows amused. When it finally disintegrated some 2 years later, just one solitary pigeon had perched on it. Who could forget the cement milk bottles? Or the b-b-q made with left over bricks from the storage heaters. “Rustic” he said it was. “Bloody eyesore” Mum called it.
Or maybe his liking for Spanish Wood. Bits of twig we called it, but he swore it was all the rage ‘during the War’. He was so excited one time in ‘tut Country, when he found a stallholder at a local craft fair stocking it. He bought and ate the lot, was as sick as a dog, fell over in the woods and fractured his foot. Three months on those crutches – haring up and down Richmond Road to and from the Hospital at whippet speed. One leg got all muscley, the other one shrunk to nothingness. How we laughed at the silly old git.
She’s the miracle baby my niece, and so beautiful I do secretly wonder whether she’s a changeling child. I mean, I’ve grown to love my sister over the years, but she’s no catwalk model. Neither am I. I’m the black sheep of the family. Always the troublesome one. Always in trouble. Anyway, she was never expected, my niece. Hoped for maybe. Wanted, undoubtedly. But never really expected to happen. And every day of her life, I want her to know her Granddad would have loved and cherished her.
Is it wrong to speak your deepest thoughts? I assume that no-one is ever ready to lose a parent, even though we all know it’s gonna happen someday. Unless you hate them I suppose. Or they hate you. Or they’re mad, or stupid, or ill (or all of the above). But I know, without a doubt, I wasn’t anywhere near ready to loose him.
I took him for granted, I pissed him off sometimes and (it’s my greatest regret) I certainly didn’t spend enough time with him. Is it wrong to wish he was still here, and Mum was taken in his place? But if Mum had died, would I think the other way round? I don’t think so. I was Daddy’s Little Princess – a title I struggled to live up to every day, and revelled in every minute.
There are certain things in life that are viewed by others as great. Certain people, places, certain achievements. But for me, it’s the little things. Remember in Good Will Hunting, when Robin Williams is reminiscing about his wife?… that’s how I feel about my dad. It’s the little things that made him what he was, that have made me want to pass everything I know onto my niece, so even though she never got to meet and got to know him, she’ll understand who he was. At least, who he was to me anyway.
If you ask my friends to describe me in three words (interview styly) I think they would say funny, organised and thoughtful. I hope they would say funny, organised and thoughtful, after all, that is what I tell them I am. Those three words could have equally summed him up. Funny enough to make people howl with laughter – remind me to tell you about the Ugly Sister and Crazy Old Butler fancy dress outfits. Organised to the point of obsessive – remind me to tell you one day about “his columns”. And thoughtful. So very very thoughtful. How many people have you known that actually go to the trouble of taping the music they want played at their funeral, with fully noted discography details (including track length)? As he wanted, we played “April in Paris” last – but the hundreds of mourners packing out the chapel never got to hear the best bit; the fantastically rousing ending Count Basie added, the sound of which I still hear in my head every time I remember him sat in his special chair in the back room; whiskey and water and packet of Camel’s next to him, huge oversized headphones atop his head, pounding out every beat into the smoke filled room. God I miss him. And the tears never stop coming. Remind me to tell you every little thing I remember. Before I start to forget.